ROBERT L. OLSON is Research Director of the Institute for Alternative Futures in Alexandria, VA. He is also currently serving as co-chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Working Group of the President's Council on Sustainable Development. Formerly Dr. Olson was a project director and consultant to the director at the Office of Technology Assessment of the U.S. Congress. He edited Mending The Earth: A World for Our Grandchildren (North Atlantic Books, 1991). A political scientist by training, Dr. Olson obtained his M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Michigan.
Sustainability as a Social Vision
Article first published online: 14 APR 2010
1995 The Society for the Psychological Study of Social Issues
Journal of Social Issues
Volume 51, Issue 4, pages 15–35, Winter 1995
How to Cite
Olson, R. L. (1995), Sustainability as a Social Vision. Journal of Social Issues, 51: 15–35. doi: 10.1111/j.1540-4560.1995.tb01346.x
- Issue published online: 14 APR 2010
- Article first published online: 14 APR 2010
Many areas of social research show that images of the future influence behavior. There is evidence that traditional images of the future are becoming less believable and that we are becoming less hopeful about the future. This article explores emerging images of a sustainable society to assess their potential for renewing our sense of hope and social purpose. Four different images or scenarios are set out of the level of change that may be required to reach a sustainable future. Rough quantitative estimates are used to test the feasibility of the scenarios. The analysis suggests that most of these scenarios are well within the realm of physical possibility. It also shows that emerging images of a sustainable society have the characteristics possessed by other images of the future that have been highly influential in Western history and in other cultures. They are believable, highly positive, and open-ended, inviting further elaboration. They specifically respond to key challenges facing our society. And they set out a story of “what is happening” and “what could be” that provides an integrative perspective on the significance of today's events and choices.